(O)ne needs only to adopt a very simple and certainly very sure process; and that is, to write without pay until somebody offers pay. If nobody offers pay within three years, the candidate may look upon this circumstance with the most implicit confidence as the sign that sawing wood is what he was intended for. If he has any wisdom at all, then, he will retire with dignity and assume his heaven-appointed vocation.

Mark Twain

Skill Building – A New Series

Using my writing as an example, I’ll be going over some principles of skill building that I’ve been acquiring and putting into practice. These posts will be weekly, as I go over how I’m using techniques for rapid skill acquisition and learning to improve my writing.

The goal of this series is to provide both a roadmap for readers wanting to follow this same path, and a history of my journey. I’d like to see how far I’ve come in a year’s time!

The first post will be on Monday, and I’ll have a page set up documenting the steps and resources I’m using, a archive of the series as a whole, and posts on my progress.

Why I Love To Hate Scrivener (And Hate Loving It)

Scrivener Hates Windows More Than I Hate Scrivener

Like iTunes, Scrivener is a application tailor-made for MacOS. The developers are Mac users, the main user base are Mac users, it’s All Mac All The Time over there. And like iTunes, the Windows version of the application is buggy, neglected, and maligned by their own user base. Almost every Microsoft is verboten over there. Just do a quick search for Scrivener and OneDrive and see how the Misinformation Machine works on the Microsoft hate.

You wouldn’t know this from their website, which proclaims the future reign of Scrivener 3 for windows as the second coming of, well, Scrivener. But again, the developers are Mac users. They aren’t Windows users, they don’t like Windows (based on forum posts and comments) and development for Windows is at best a part-time effort.

As a Windows user (I only dabble with GalliumOS on my Chromebook), it’s frustrating. I’d rather Literature and Latte just drop Windows support altogether than have it rot on the vine. And they’ve done it before, relegating the second-class citizens of Linux to thrash about in the shadows with ancient code. There’s plenty of writing apps that have done that. Ulysses has always been Mac only since day one. Vellum, same story.

This wouldn’t leave Windows users completely up the creek. There’s other tools for writing available on the platform, and even old standbys like Word and Google Docs can work in a pinch. But folks are hung up on the organizational tools and ridiculous corkboard that I find so absolutely useless. Granted, I’m doing short stories and blog posts for my primary writing, not novel series. Maybe if I needed to slap together something in a write-to-market push I’d like tools that could make me feel better about myself, too.

But I Still Use Scrivener Every Day

Even with the bullshit of Scrivener 3 for Windows, I still use the program daily for my writing. All my completed stories are in a project (which is inside a OneDrive folder! I must be mad!) with my front matter and Standard Manuscript format ready for compilation. It simplifies my record keeping.

I also like to export to Markdown for a plain text copy of my work. And the compile feature in Scrivener is an incredible tool for this purpose. I’d say it’s worth the price of the software just for compiling, but that’s only true if you get it 50% off for winning NaNoWriMo or something.

Being able to compile to Markdown, to an anonymous Manuscript format file (amazing how many places don’t want your name on the manuscript), to an epub file for easier proofreading for my first readers**; it’s the tool I use the most in Scrivener.

Compared To My pandoc Workflow, It’s Great

Forget the corkboard, character sketches, all that cruft. Simplifying the production workflow is the greatest contribution Literature and Latte has made to writing. It just comes down to time and effort; you could do all the same things with Word, a Markdown editor and pandoc, but unless you enjoy setting all that up, why not spend money on a unified tool?

If only that tool was supported better.

*I do more that two backups; main file, backup file, Scrivener backup, Markdown backup. Those are in the cloud (main, markdown) and on my local backup drive (main, backup, scrivener) that gets swapped out on the regular.

**I know, some would say I need only one first reader, and to trust my gut more. But First Reader A hates hard-sf, and First Reader B hates fantasy, and First Reader C is great at double checking my math in stories. So I still only do one reader per story, but their specialties lend them to different types of stories.


Most short story writers, I’m told, have a method of tracking submissions and sales. When you first start out, that file folder, spreadsheet, whatever, isn’t tracking anything but hunger and rejection. It’s pleasant in the fiddling with a scab manner of squeezing enjoyment out of pain.

The common advice now is to celebrate your rejections, get 100 of them a year, keep all of them but don’t take anything personally, engage in rejectomancy a drop at a time, don’t obsess. Some of that is contradictory.

In six months of writing and submitting I’ve completed 5 short stories. Not super productive, but I’m keeping in mind the following:

  • It’s better than 0 stories written, which is what the previous 39 years had been;
  • It’s not bad considering there’s a full-time job, contract work, twin toddlers and various other clumps of life’s challenges in there;
  • At this time I’m now less lazy (by five stories worth of writing) than I had been at this time last year.

From June 28th up to this week, those stories have collected 19 rejections, almost 4 per story. 4 of the rejections were personal, which seems to be a good sign. 3 stories are still out with various magazines, while 2 are waiting (I’m not sure why I’m waiting, it’s not like there’s a dearth of places to submit between pro and semi-pro markets) for particular markets to re-open for the new year.

But the rejections hurt. Not to where I’m moaning “what’s the point?” and throwing manuscripts into the garbage, but more than I expected. Part of the process of growing thick skin; callouses take work, work is bruising, pain is the process, yada yada.

Still, though; the process of submitting is less, if not fun then enjoyable, then I was expecting. Writing is great fun, a blast, invigorating. Knowing that someone read it, amazing. The rejection, hearing back that someone didn’t care for it, well, OK. But the hurt comes from the unspoken bit; I don’t want others to read it in my magazine.

That’s more personal than most editors would send in a rejection, but that’s where my mind goes, my own bit of rejectomancy.

The solution is to keep writing. Get a sixth story out, tenth, hundredth story into the wilds of Submission Basin. The proper response to not for us will always be what about this then?

The Sign of (The) Four

I just finished reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s short novel The Sign of Four, which is also published under the title The Sign of The Four. Both uses are in the novel itself, and as much as I like the four word title, the more common phrasing used by the characters contains “the” twice.

It’s an odd story, the second novel, written before the more popular short stories, and could be looked at as a one-off. Watson’s ready to leave Sherlock by the end; Sherlock starts and ends the novel with a quick injection of cocaine; nothing about these characters seems to want to continue with each other. And it’s wasn’t a hit at the time. Only when Doyle switched to the faster-paced short stories did Sherlock take off as a cultural phenomena.

That aside, I’d still recommend it. As part of the mystery involves the British and their occupation of India (among other places), there’s some fairly causal 19th century racism thrown about. Probably as I am came to The Sign of Four after trying to read Live and Let Die by Ian Flemming, but it didn’t seem as egregious as the racism-of-the-time thrown out in the Bond novel. But if that’s a showstopper for you in your pleasure reading, give this a miss.

Reading this led me down the path of looking at adaptations, and right to Jeremy Brett and The Return of Sherlock Holmes. In my mind, Sherlock is always a combination of Brett and Basil Rathbone, the actors I grew up watching in the role on TV (Brett) and cheap VHS copies of public-domain movies (Rathbone). Brett really threw himself into the role, introducing all sorts of quirks and mannerisms to Holmes, creating a private life for the character. He even went so far as to stop referring to Holmes by name, as a fear of being “taken over” by the character crept in.

And that, an actor staring into the abyss of a role that mirrored his darkest moods and tendencies, led me back around to an article I’d read on overcoming personal demons by befriending them. A difficult task, but one I’d rather take over Holmes’ regular cocaine use to stave off boredom.

© 2020 Errant Jones

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑